- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular but highly variable permanent resident. The Pine Siskin was uncommon in northern forested areas during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Distributed across the boreal forest in Canada to Alaska, much of the northern United States, and southward throughout the Rocky Mountains as far south as Mexico (Figure 1). The highest densities are recorded in the western Rocky Mountains, especially in British Columbia.
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 10/20 by Partners in Flight where it also was designated as a watch list species, one that is common but in steep decline.
Permanent resident and short-distance migrant; erratic movements as far south as the southern United States and Mexico.
Highly variable diet consisting of gleaning arthropods, seeds, and buds on conifers, but also on deciduous trees and shrubs, grasses, forbs, and a variety of weedy species. Also commonly found at bird feeders, especially in winter or during migration.
Cup-nest on outer branches of conifer trees.
Roberts (1932) described the Pine Siskin as a common summer resident throughout the evergreen and pine forests during the breeding season, and it undoubtedly nests over a wide area. He only reported finding one nest in a pine tree near Eveleth in St. Louis County in 1918, but he also noted a July 1918 observation of “young birds out of the nest being fed by the parents in Pine County.”
He refers to the species whimsically as “possessed of a gipsy-like wanderlust that takes it now here, now there, and only irregularly and seemingly by chance back again to the same locality,” as well as “wandering through the land, few or many together, winter and summer, settling for a season and rearing its family in the most unexpected places.” He describes nesting that has occurred in Bismarck, North Dakota; Sioux City, Iowa; and eastern Nebraska in the early 1900s in localities “far from where it is supposed to belong.” Overall he described it occurring over a substantial portion of the state, but most commonly in the northern third.
Green and Janssen (1975) reinforce its vagabond nature of nesting in the state but describe its primary breeding distribution in the northeastern coniferous region. They note confirmed nesting from Itasca and St. Louis Counties, plus inferred nesting from Clearwater, Lake, and Pine Counties. However, they also state that nesting was confirmed in Hennepin County in 1961 and 1966, plus they cite evidence of inferred nesting in Lac qui Parle, Rice, and Winona Counties. Most southern nesting seems to occur after large winter invasions. Janssen (1987) summarized additional confirmed nesting records from 14 counties, ranging from Cook County in the northeast to Winona County in the southeast, and west to Stearns County in central Minnesota. He further points out a summer observation in June 1980 from Houston County, the most southeastern county of the state. In their summary, Hertzel and Janssen (1998) added two more, Cass and Koochiching, for a total of 16 counties with confirmed nesting records since 1970.
The Minnesota Biological Survey reported 53 breeding season locations that illustrated the wide and patchy nature of the species’ distribution across the northern half of the state. The most extensive locations with observations were from Cook County, central St. Louis County, and eastern Becker/western Hubbard County. Other observations were recorded in the northwest in eastern Marshall County and western Pennington County, south to Crow Wing and the border of Cass and Morrison Counties.
The MNBBA included 318 records of the Pine Siskin that were also scattered across a substantial part of the state, except most of the southern and western portions of Minnesota (Figure 2). Breeding observations were recorded from only 5.3% (252/4,737) of the blocks in the state but from almost 50% (43/87) of the counties (Figure 3; Table 1). A total of 28 blocks had confirmed nesting, including southeast to Kandiyohi County, south to Blue Earth, Rice, and Olmstead Counties, and northwest to Morrison County. As previously described, most records were found in northeastern Minnesota.
The probability map based on the MNBBA point counts predicted low abundance of the Pine Siskin throughout the northeastern and northern region of Minnesota (Figure 4). However, the erratic breeding and migratory nature of this species renders predictions as very precarious. For instance, even though most records of the siskin were from northeastern Minnesota, the species was confirmed nesting in southern Minnesota.
Dawson (2014) suggested that increased silviculture and establishment of conifers may have increased the normal range of this species farther south than its traditional range. This was likely augmented by the growth in availability of feeders. These southward extensions were especially true during the twentieth century.
During the Wisconsin atlas, Cutright et al. (2006) documented a similar pattern of nesting to that described in Minnesota. The first nest in Wisconsin was not discovered until 1948 in Iron County, in the north, 30 years later than in Minnesota. Since the 1960s, nesting records have increased throughout the state with confirmed nesting in 40 quads during its atlas of 1995–2000, including records from its southern tier of counties in Kenosha, Racine, and Walworth. Brewer et al. (1991) also identified an increase in nesting records in southern Michigan and hinted at increased birding activity as a potential factor, but they acknowledged the species is likely breeding more frequently in the southern part of the state. Dawson (2014) presented additional evidence of recent southward extensions of nesting in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, especially in the 1970s.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.